February 26, 2017

SMCLC Scoping Proposal for 4th and Arizona DEIR

To ensure a robust environmental analysis, a transparent process, and a project that results in the greatest number of benefits and the least number of harms to Santa Monica’s residents and businesses, it is critical that the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) include a reasonable range of alternatives.  Well established case law and CEQA regulations clearly spell this out.  An EIR must analyze a “reasonable range of alternatives to the project,” with an emphasis on alternatives which “offer substantial environmental advantages over the project proposal.”  Citizens of Goleta Valley v. Board of Supervisors, 52 Cal. 3d 553, 566 (1990); California Native Plant Society v. City of Santa Cruz, 177 Cal. App. 4th 957, 982-83 (2009).

The magnitude of the proposed project, its central location in the Downtown, the fact that it is on public land, and has generated a very high level of community involvement make it even more imperative that a full range of alternatives be studied.  This land is so critical to the Downtown that we have to get it right.

Proposed Project
The proposed project is 357,000 square feet, including heights of up to 129 feet with 154,000 square feet of yet another luxury hotel, and 106,800 square feet of yet more high-density office space.
  There would be only 52,500 square feet of public open space, which would include space on a second level not directly accessible from the street.  Much of this “open space” is not pedestrian friendly and serves as tenant improvements for the hotel and office tenants.

This project represents only a minor 15% reduction from the original proposed project.  It is a project that developers easily could have proposed on land they assembled and owned.

Two Park/Open Space Alternatives
The EIR should study two predominantly open space alternatives to the proposed project.  This is public land, the City is the steward of this land, and the Downtown, as it has been expanded to extend to Lincoln Boulevard (both sides) and to the I-10 freeway to the south, lacks significant public open space, especially in view of all the new mixed-housing proposed.  If this opportunity is lost, it will be irretrievable.  Santa Monica would be a diminished, blockier, more congested City as a result.

We support study of the two park/open space alternatives from SM a.r.t.
(Feb 14, 2017 SM a.r.t. submission to the City – R. Kwok).  They specify both a “Public Park” alternative, including 90% park area and an “Urban Plaza” alternative, including 75% park area.  The open space should be contiguous.

Both alternatives emphasize the public open space all at ground level, easily accessible from the street and include 3 levels of subterranean parking.  It is important, that unlike Pershing Square, the design of the parking ramps or other features do not operate as a barrier or otherwise place the open space above grade so as to make pedestrian access more difficult and uninviting.

Reduced Project Alternatives
An analysis of alternatives to a proposed project is a critical component of an EIR. SMCLC believes that the EIR will confirm that the proposed project is simply too massive for the City’s existing infrastructure and will have massive unmitigable impacts.  This makes it all the more important that the EIR’s alternatives analysis consider an appropriate range of reduced project alternatives that would significantly mitigate the environmental impacts

We understand that the City has indicated that it will study two reduced project alternatives that are not predominantly a park or a plaza. Under CEQA these alternatives must “offer substantial environmental advantages over the project proposal.” To accomplish this, they must be of significantly reduced size to the proposed project, including in:

• height,
• square footage,
• FAR/lot coverage, and
• mix of uses

If they are not, then the environmental advantages offered would not be “substantial” in violation of CEQA.

In addition to being “reasonable” alternatives under CEQA, these two alternatives should also represent substantial environmental differences between themselves.  Therefore, for example, the City has indicated that it may study a reduced project at 6 stories -- which must likewise similarly reduce FAR, density, and square footage for it to be a truly reduced alternative project.  Then, the other reduced project alternative studied should be reduced significantly from that.  We would expect the height, the square footage, the FAR and lot coverage would be significantly reduced.  Otherwise, the results could be preordained.

It would also be unacceptable to study as a second alternative a project that juggles the various non-open space uses so that as one use goes down another goes up to keep the environmental impacts relatively similar, not “substantially” different.  This would be impermissibly gaming the system.

SMCLC raises this issue at the outset based on our previous experience reviewing the EIR for the Hines project (Papermate site).  In our view the EIR for the Hines project did not include a reasonable range of project alternatives.  Instead, it stacked the deck in favor of the oversized project the applicant wanted by studying alternatives that were too similar in impacts.  Because of their similarity to the proposed project, the alternatives performed very similarly to the proposed project across the CEQA topic areas, and therefore they did not contribute to a reasonable range of alternatives.

We filed a CEQA lawsuit on that, and other grounds, which we voluntarily dismissed after the Council revoked its approval of the project in response to the referendum.

This is a project that will play a major role in defining the Downtown for generations to come.  For all these reasons, we urge you to require a DEIR that fully studies the alternatives requested in this letter.